Maggie, George, and Alan: Out British Novelist Alan Hollinghurst Won a Top Prize Writing about Thatcher's England-Which, He Tells Charles Kaiser, Is Not Such a Far Cry from Bush's America

Article excerpt

Alan Hollinghurst is the author of four novels, beginning with The Swimming-Pool Library in 1988. His latest, The Line of Beauty, won the Man Booker Prize, the most important U.K. fiction award, in 2004. Compared favorably by many critics to the novels of Henry James, The Line of Beauty chronicles the life of Nick Guest, a gay Oxford graduate living in the home of a high-flying Tory MP serving in Margaret Thatcher's government in London in the 1980s. Hollinghurst was teaching undergraduates at Princeton this fall when he won the prize.

Hollinghurst spoke to Advocate columnist Charles Kaiser about Thatcher then, Bush now, and gay life on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Advocate: What was your own view of Mrs. Thatcher?

Hollinghurst: It was a terrible time on almost all fronts. I suppose her main antigay action was Clause 28, which was passed in 1988. Local authorities were prohibited [by that law] from spending money on anything which "promoted homosexuality"--which is actually an amazingly Thatcherite view of sexuality: that you could promote it. If you got Saatchi & Saatchi or someone to do an advertisement, it might really catch on! I remember when that was, because it was just the time The Swimming-Pool Library was coming out, and it was held up as an example of the kind of book that you might no longer be able to buy for a public library. The talk about it actually rather helped my book when it crone out.

The [Tony] Blair government vowed to repeal [Clause 28], but they had a lot of trouble getting the repeal through the [House of] Lords. It was finally done last year. In fact, no action was ever brought against a local authority, because of the fantastically inept wording of the law.

Did the Thatcher government use gay bashing the way the Bush administration used gay marriage--to energize their base or pander to prejudice?

It was nothing comparable, really. I mean, what happened in America was staggering--the spectacle of an election which really has been won by manipulating sentiment about gay marriage. I don't suppose Bush himself could care less about it. It's just a cynical exploitation of bigotry. It's a staggering thing--getting enough people to vote against giving a minority of the population certain rights. …